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Lust for Life (1956) is a MGM (Metrocolor) biographical film about the life of the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, based on the 1934 novel of the same name by Irving Stone and adapted by Norman Corwin.
It was directed by Vincente Minnelli and produced by John Houseman. The film stars Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh, James Donald as his brother Theo, Pamela Brown, Everett Sloane and Anthony Quinn, who won an Oscar for his performance as Van Gogh's fast friend and rival Paul Gauguin.
Vincent van Gogh's obsessive devotion to his art engulfs, consumes and finally destroys him. The apostate religious leaders do not like his zeal for God and they frown on his social activism and care for the poor in a coal mining town. He returns home to his father's house where he is rejected by a woman he obsessively loves, takes up with a prostitute who leaves because he is too poor, and discovers painting, which he pursues while agonizing that his vision exceeds his ability to execute. His brother, Theo van Gogh, provides financial and moral support, while Vincent lives off and on with the critical Paul Gauguin. Vincent begins experiencing hallucinations and seizures and voluntarily commits himself to a mental institution. He signs himself out, and with Theo's help, returns to a rural area to paint, where he ultimately shoots himself in despair of never being able to put what he sees on canvas.
The film was based on the 1934 novel by Irving Stone and adapted by Norman Corwin. Vincent Minnelli directed the film, while John Houseman produced it. They worked with Douglas on the 1952 melodrama The Bad and the Beautiful, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Principal photography started in August and ended in December 1955 and it was shot on location in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. George Cukor took Minnelli's place as director for the take of a scene. Two hundred enlarged colour photos were used representing Vincent’s completed canvases; these were in addition to copies that were executed by an American art teacher, Robert Parker. To prepare for his role as the troubled painter, Douglas practiced painting crows so that he could reasonably imitate van Gogh at work. According to his wife Anne, Douglas was so into character that he returned to home in character. When asked if he would do such a thing again, Douglas responded that he wouldn't.
New York Times critic Bosley Crowther praised the film's conception, acting and color scheme, noting the design team "consciously made the flow of color and the interplay of compositions and hues the most forceful devices for conveying a motion picture comprehension of van Gogh." Variety said, "This is a slow-moving picture whose only action is in the dialog itself."
According to MGM records, the film earned $1,595,000 in the US and Canada and $1,100,000 elsewhere resulting in a loss of $2,072,000.
- Actor in a Supporting Role: Anthony Quinn
- Best Actor: Kirk Douglas
- Best Art Direction (Color): Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters, Preston Ames; Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis, F. Keogh Gleason
- Best Writing (Screenplay--Adapted): Norman Corwin
The Best Actor prize went to Yul Brynner, who won for his portrayal of the King of Siam in The King and I. The musical also won the Oscar for Best Art Direction. Minnelli felt that Douglas should have won the award.
Companion short film
MGM produced a short film Van Gogh: Darkness Into Light, narrated by Dore Schary and showing the European locations used for the filming, to promote Lust for Life. In the film, a 75-year-old woman from Auvers-sur-Oise (not Jeanne Calment, who lived in Arles several hundred km to the south), who claims to have known Van Gogh when she was a young girl, meets star Kirk Douglas, and comments on how much he looks like the painter. This short promotional film is shown on Turner Classic Movies occasionally. At the start and ending of the film, the creators list and thank a number of galleries, collectors and historians who allowed the works of Van Gogh to be photographed for the film.
- List of American films of 1956
- Death of Vincent van Gogh
- Vincent (1987 documentary)
- Vincent & Theo (1990 biographical film about van Gogh that is often compared to Lust for Life)
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- Domestic take see "Top Grosses of 1957", Variety, 8 January 1958: 30
- Walker, John. (July 1990) Vincent van Gogh films: Of cypresses and sunflowers , Monthly Film Bulletin/artdesigncafe. Retrieved October 12, 2010.
- Bosley Crowther, "Lust for Life" review, The New York Times, September 18, 1956 http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9901E4DB173EE23BBC4052DFBF66838D649EDE
- Staff review, "Lust for Life", Variety, December 31, 1955 http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117792815?refcatid=31
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